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Dressed to Thrill 

Local entrepreneur Susan Blake is proof that how people dress and present themselves can make a big difference in their professional futures. As a matter of fact, a chance meeting, the right outfit and a large dose of business savvy landed her the only Nicole Miller store that carries a full range of the designer's goods in the South.

Blake opened Nicole Miller (3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Lakeside Shopping Center, Metairie, 828-1925) a year and a half ago after she and the designer met in New York and became friends.

"It kind of fell into her lap," store manager Jeannette Ladreyt says of Blake's opportunity to open the shop. "She was in the right place at the right time" to meet the designer, plus "she was wearing Nicole Miller, and she wears it well."

As they got to know each other, discussions turned to opening a store in the New Orleans area that would have access to all of Miller's designs: women's clothing -- from sportswear to bridal apparel -- men's silk ties and boxer shorts, jewelry, handbags, shoes, fragrances, tuxedo cummerbunds and more. Although Blake already was founder and chief executive officer of Sebco Chemical Co., which provides chemicals to local and national firms associated with clean-up and management of petroleum products, hazardous wastes and other materials, she decided to take on the challenge. She had worked extensively for top names in the fashion industry as well as planning galas and promotions for charity events and even recruiting and managing models at a local agency before turning her fashion savvy and business acumen to developing Nicole Miller into a full-service fashion stop.

"We're the only people in the South that carry the full line of Nicole Miller," Ladreyt says. "But we're not a company store; we're privately owned. We have the entire collection ... you name it; we've got it."

Part of the store's success is that Nicole Miller designs are made from quality fabrics that wear well and clean easily. In addition, styles range from casual, to business, to cocktail to formal, with options for all the occasions in between. Customers range in age from teenagers looking for the trendiest prom dress available to senior citizens who want to look smashing for a holiday party.

"Her designs are ageless," the manager says of Nicole Miller clothing. "She has everything from conservative to trendy. You could wear her clothes every day; she does everything." Plus, Miller personally selects fabrics from manufacturers all over the world, and keeps close supervision over every step of production. "You're not buying a typical cotton/polyester blend. The whole process is incredible; there's so much that goes into this company for quality and style."

Customers are drawn back to the Lakeside Shopping Center store not only to for the fashion but because of the special attention each receives from the staff at Nicole Miller. "We're probably the only store that sends thank-you notes to our customers after every visit," Ladreyt says. "We're different. We realize you're buying a piece of a collection ... making an investment in your wardrobe." The shop holds in-store parties for its customers to show them new things from time to time, and its staff also will put on in-home shows. "You don't have to spend $1,000 or $2,000 to get that (in-home show). Just tell us you want us there."

That personal service, plus designs women will wear more than once, are key in the huge success of Nicole Miller's bridal department, which offers everything the bride and her maids need, from dresses to handbags to hosiery and shoes. Not only can the bridal party get all their fashion needs in one place; it's more intimate than some of the bridal warehouses without sacrificing style and beauty.

Although it has been gratifying to watch a new business thrive and even grow, Ladreyt says her favorite part of the job is helping someone discover their own fashion flair. "It's when someone puts something on they didn't think they could pull off ... and they look really, really good in it."

Small Change

Aucoin Hart Jewelers (1525 Metairie Road, Metairie, 834-9999) has swept both state and national design awards this year, capturing the Best Ring Design for 2001 at the annual Jewelers of America Awards competition recently in New York City. Judges selected Aucoin Hart's platinum, sapphire and diamond ring design from among hundreds entered from around the country. That design initially garnered Best of Show honors for Aucoin Hart at the Jewelers of Louisiana competition earlier in the year.

click to enlarge The staff of Nicole Miller: manager Jeannette Ladreyt, owner Susan Blake, Megan Olear, Elizabeth Newell, Colette Trosclair, Tania Murillo (in Santa suit), Vickie Small and Julie Steiner.
  • The staff of Nicole Miller: manager Jeannette Ladreyt, owner Susan Blake, Megan Olear, Elizabeth Newell, Colette Trosclair, Tania Murillo (in Santa suit), Vickie Small and Julie Steiner.
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